Back in 2014, the New York Public Library (NYPL) abandoned its controversial plans to revamp its flagship Fifth Avenue location with a design by Foster + Partners. Opponents of the Foster design feared the cost of the reno would ultimately well exceed the $300 million budgeted, and that the starchitect's plan — which would insert a contemporary lending library into unused reading rooms and stacks at the back of the Stephen A Schwarzman Building – would require thousands of books to be moved to a new location in New Jersey to allow for the changes.
As an alternative, officials opted to overhaul its nearby Mid-Manhattan Library at 40th Street and Fifth Avenue while the flagship building underwent a more modest renovation. This revamped branch, now known as The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library (SNFL), officially reopened on Tuesday with striking new spaces and an expanded public offer.
Led by Francine Houben of Dutch firm Mecanoo and New York’s Beyer Blinder Belle, the $200 million transformation covers 180,000 square feet of space and sees the addition of new 43-foot-high atrium upon entry, additional public seating areas, a full-floor children's and teen's library and education center, a new business center, a learning center for adult education classes, and a podcasting studio. The pièce de résistance, however, is perhaps the new public rooftop space, or “Wizard Hat,” which in addition to housing mechanical equipment, hosts a conference center and cafe with a wrapping terrace.
Mecanoo and Beyer Blinder Belle also restored the building’s historic limestone facade and made a number of mechanical upgrades to reduce the library's carbon footprint. All floors are, too, now ADA compliant.
"The SNFL is the central circulating library that New York City has long needed, wanted, and deserved," said NYPL President Anthony W. Marx in a statement. "As we all look towards our next chapter of recovery and renewal, it is more important than ever that our public social infrastructure be strong, and that learning and opportunity be readily and freely accessible. There is no greater public project, no greater public amenity, than this one to help accomplish those goals. In the heart of Midtown, this building will be a beacon of learning and growth, supporting education for the youngest New Yorkers and beyond. We have waited a long time to give this great gift to the people of New York City. We are so proud to share it now when the needs are so pressing."
Most of the SNFL is now open for timed browsing and by-appointment computer — rules that follow the NYPL’s phased COVID reopening plan. Visitors have access to more than 400,000 books across the building's eight floors.
- Midtown (Urbanize NYC)